Published November 9, 2017. Postdated to keep this at the top of the blog until the polls close. If you appreciate the hours of effort behind detailed analysis you can't find anywhere else, Hit the tip jar!

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The City of Tulsa is holding a special election this Tuesday, November 14, 2017. The ballot will consist of seven proposed amendments to the City Charter which were approved by the City Council over the course of the summer.

Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early in-person absentee voting for residents of the Tulsa County will be available at the Tulsa County Election Board, 555 N. Denver Ave., just north of downtown Tulsa, from 8 am. to 6 p.m. Thursday, November 9, and Friday, November 10, plus from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, November 11. The Tulsa County Election Board has published an information sheet on the November 14, 2017, election.

In addition to the Tulsa special election, voters in House District 76 (northern part of Broken Arrow) have a special general election between Republican Ross Ford and Democrat Chris Van Landingham to fill the vacancy left by the death of State Rep. David Brumbaugh, and voters in Senate District 37 will choose a successor to Sen. Dan Newberry -- Republican Brian O'Hara, formerly Congressman Jim Bridenstine's Deputy District Director, faces 26-year-old Allison Ikley-Freeman. Bixby voters have a franchise renewal on the ballot, and Sand Springs has a city bond issue.

SAMPLE BALLOTS:

Last Friday morning, Pat Campbell interviewed me about the City of Tulsa, November 14, 2017, ballot propositions. Click the link to listen to the 30 minute podcast.

Here is a summary of the seven City of Tulsa ballot items, with links to details of the charter language to be changed and my analysis.

  1. Summary nuisance abatement: YES
  2. Electronic notice to councilors of Special Meeting: YES
  3. Sloppily written amendment intended to allow emergency clause on resolutions: NO
  4. City general election to be moved to August: NO
  5. Mayor appoints Election District Commission: NO
  6. Permit political activities by civil service employees and sworn public safety officers: NO
  7. Ineffective attempt to constrain funds generated by public safety tax: NO

As a supplement to my commentary on Prop 4, I have written a timeline of the changes Tulsa has made to its election process. Five changes were made in the six-year period between 2006 and 2012.

For your convenience, here is a single-page summary of my recommendations on the 2017 Tulsa City Charter propositions.

For the sixth time since 2006, we will be tinkering with election dates. Two other proposals would have an impact on elections -- the composition of the Election District Commission and allowing city employees under civil service protection to participate in political activity.

An election resolution for the first five of the proposed amendments was approved by the City Council on July 12, 2017, and approved by Mayor G. T. Bynum IV on July 17, 2017. Resolutions sending the sixth and seventh proposed amendments to the voters were approved on August 16, 2017.

State Rep. Scott McEachin of Tulsa, one of the votes against the HB1054X tax increases, explains in a statement that HB1054X would not have provided needed revenue for another 90 days, but bills already passed by the State House would provide immediate funding from cash on hand -- if the Senate will pass the bills and if Gov. Fallin will sign them.

In 1943, Winston Churchill gave a speech which has come to be known as "A Sense of Crowd and Urgency." Certainly, today, November 9, 2017, we will have both a crowd and a sense of urgency at the Oklahoma Capitol. I'll explain why I think Churchill's remarks are relevant to today, but first let us focus on what is urgent--why we must have a sense of crowd and urgency.

Today, all Oklahomans must focus their attention and their political energy on the fierce urgency of having the Senate pass and the governor sign the measures already passed by the House to fund vital health services now.

I repeat, emphatically, all Oklahomans must focus their attention and their political energy on the fierce urgency of having the Senate pass and the governor sign the measures already passed by the House to fund vital health services now.

Let's look to history, to parliamentary tradition, to Churchill for guidance. First:

'And there should be, on great occasions, a sense of crowd and urgency. There should be a sense of the importance of much that is said; a sense that great matters are being decided, there and then, by the House.'

Eliminating the anxiety - in some cases said to be no less than life-threatening to those who suffer from depression - is the great matter to be decided, here and now.

Now is not the time for analogies about cans and roads; now is the time to act. Revenue derived from the passage of HB1054X will not be available until 90 days after the bill is acted upon by the governor. It will not answer our urgent need.

Again, from Churchill: 'The House of Commons has lifted our affairs above the mechanical sphere into the human sphere. It thrives on criticism, it is perfectly impervious to newspaper abuse or taunts from any quarter.... There is no situation to which it cannot address itself with vigor and ingenuity.'

Therefore, let us conduct our affairs in the Capitol today with vigor and ingenuity, according to the 'Oklahoma standard.' In my opinion, the essential element of the Oklahoma standard is how we express our concern for one another in times of crisis. Historically, Oklahomans are both charitable and frugal, but money extracted by law from Oklahoma's citizens is not charity, and money given carte blanche to government which has admitted to misuse of funds is not frugality. Today is not a day to pass a massive tax increase; today is a day to assure all Oklahomans that its House of Representatives, Senate and governor can see that our most vulnerable are protected.

Muskogee State Rep. George Faught has posted a vigorous defense of his "no" vote on the HB 1054 tax increases. Faught states that the House has already passed bills filling the current budget hole without raising taxes; the Senate can choose to take these bills up and pass them. Faught also questions the wisdom of considering additional spending during the special session; the focus should have been solely on meeting the gap created when the State Supreme Court overturned the cigarette tax increase.

Faught also chides the fearmongers who have caused Oklahoma's most vulnerable citizens to worry unnecessarily. This is a classic move by the tax-consuming elements of society: Hold the most vulnerable hostage until the voters agree to a tax increase. They'll always throw senior citizens out on the street or lay off teachers and police officers, rather than cut fruitless tax credits or pointless agencies.

Notice that the conservatives who voted yesterday are proudly explaining and defending their votes. They are not hiding from what was an unpopular decision. They understand the emotional manipulation being used and the game that the lobbyists and their allies are playing. I admire their courage.

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE CURRENT BUDGET CRISIS

There are differing viewpoints on the answer to fixing our state budget woes, but the issue at hand is protecting and funding our core services. While I take my role as State Representative very seriously, I understand that I will never make everybody happy. I tell my constituents what my beliefs and core principles are when I am asking for their vote. Integrity demands that I am true to my word and every decision made as a legislator means that both the benefits and consequences of each measure presented must be weighed before making a decision. Believe me, there are no easy answers!

It is important to note that even if HB1054 had passed with the required 76 votes, the monies generated would not have been appropriated until March 1st, 2018. The immediate crisis facing DHS (specifically the Advantage Waiver program) would not have been averted by passage of this bill. The good news is that in addition to available Rainy Day funds and recent revenue upturns, there is more than enough in numerous state revolving accounts that can be tapped to appropriate the necessary dollars to keep the core services provided to our citizens.

This Special Session should have dealt solely with the current deficit created when the State Supreme Court overturned the Cigarette "fee", ruling it unconstitutional. Digging the financial hole twice as deep and compounding the problem with added spending in a time when sufficient funds are not there and when our state is slowly but surely emerging from a deep national recession is reckless and irresponsible. Raising taxes at this time actually threatens to stall or possibly even reverse the fragile economic recovery we have started to see. In a two-income family, if one wage earner loses their job, the family doesn't decide to buy a new car and go further in debt - state government shouldn't increase spending until we regain a sure financial footing. Recovery is occurring and we are seeing some very encouraging numbers as our revenues are gradually increasing, but unfortunately, it doesn't happen overnight. Raising taxes should always be a last resort.

Oklahomans solidly rejected a tax increase 12 months ago when they voted down the Education Penny Sales Tax at the polls. They had the opportunity, but rejected a one cent permanent increase in sales tax even though it was targeted to Education. This wasn't because they were not in support of our teachers, but because they felt they were taxed enough already. Had HB1054 passed, it would have been the largest tax increase in Oklahoma history.

Over the last few weeks, it has come to light that several state agencies have been lying to legislature and the people of Oklahoma about the monies they have been allocated. Millions of taxpayer dollars which come from hard-working Oklahoma families and small businesses have been squandered and misused. This is totally unacceptable. We should demand audits and oversight on agencies before they misspend another dime of taxpayer money. Continuing to appropriate funds to these agencies without accountability is a dereliction of our duty.

The House already has passed funding to get DHS and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services through this current crisis. The Department of Health shortfall will be covered as well. Contrary to what people are hearing from the news, there IS money to address the issue at hand. We can "plug the hole" WITHOUT raising taxes. Agency heads are publicly threatening to make the most dramatic and harmful cuts to create a bigger crisis rather than doing what is necessary to avoid them. Fanning the flames of fear on our most vulnerable citizens in unconscionable and simply "government bullying." An acceptable measure has been passed by the House which fills the budget hole. The Senate and Governor should stop grandstanding and address the issue at hand. Additional spending can be brought up at the appropriate time - during the next regular session.

In order to provide long-awaited pay raises for teachers and state employees, we need to have the funds to sustain those increases year after year. However, missing monies, illegal payments and irregularities in accounting must be addressed before simply passing a higher tax burden on to our citizens. As a side note, these pay raises would not have gone into effect until August of 2018 - another reason to address this issue in the next legislative session.

Oklahoma State Rep. Tom Gann, one of the votes against the proposed tax increase package, analyzes the state budget crisis from his perspective as an auditor.

Oklahoma House of Representatives Communications & Public Affairs Nov. 9, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: State Rep. Tom Gann
Office: (405) 557-7364

Tone at the Top
By Rep. Tom Gann


When referencing fraud prevention, auditors use the catchphrase tone at the top. It refers to an organization's ethical climate, its integrity - set by its leaders.

To set an effective internal control environment, auditors have to assess an organization's tone at the top. Do leaders show a commitment to honesty, integrity and ethical behavior, or do they pursue winning at all costs? Are they transparent, or do they hide what they are doing behind closed doors?

As a former auditor myself, I find myself now in government assessing the tone at the top as I learn more and more each day of the shell game being played with government money.

A perfect example of what I'm talking about is the state Department of Health. A recent news story says that the agency "employed a series of accounting tricks to provide the illusion of a balanced budget," but has in fact spent more than its annual revenues since 2011.

I'm afraid the health department is only the first indicator of a much deeper problem in our state. If this agency could get away with this for six years, how many other agencies are using similar tactics? We won't know until we begin an audit of each recipient of state appropriations.

First, however, we must examine our tone at the top. If the Legislature itself thumbs its nose at the rules it establishes and enacts legislation that is clearly unconstitutional, why would we expect more from our state agencies?

Laws lose effectiveness when people ignore them.

When the Legislature funds pet projects and protects special interests, why would we expect our agencies to perform differently?

On the other hand, if we set a tone of transparency, and we uphold ethical behavior from the top down, then our agencies would be more inclined to do the same. We as legislators need to be above board and set a tone of integrity. We should be able then to expect the same from our agencies.

We must raise the standard for ourselves as lawmakers first. If we're going to point fingers at our agencies, we need to first look at ourselves.

Once we can stop engineering the crisis, we can manage it.

Tom Gann serves Oklahoma House District 8. He can be reached by phone at (405) 557-7364 or by email at tom.gann@okhouse.gov.

In a Facebook post, Sen. Nathan Dahm has explained his reasons for opposing a massive tax increase to meet the current Oklahoma state budget shortfall.

This week I voted no one of the largest tax increases in state history. Why? Because I don't believe the answer to our state's budget woes is raising taxes.

Where are the reforms?

Every program that is currently being used as a bargaining chip with claims that the program will be eliminated could be fully funded WITHOUT raising taxes if reforms were made.

The majority of the legislature seems willing to raise almost half a billion dollars in taxes on nearly every single Oklahoman without passing any reforms.

Why is it that they will raise taxes on the oil & gas industry which creates tens of thousands of jobs in our state while at the same time cutting checks for tens of millions of dollars to subsidize the wind industry (and their dozens of jobs) every year?

Why is it that the entire state is forced to subsidize the Amtrak between OKC & Dallas? Why can't people pay the full price of a ticket? Why do people in Tulsa or the panhandle or Enid have to pay for others to take a joy ride to go shopping and spend their money (sales-tax free on certain items!) in Texas?

Why is it that the taxpayers had to subsidize over $4,000,000 to line the pockets of sleaze-ball Harvey Weinstein with his movie that made Oklahomans look backwards?

Why is it that we have to pay sales tax on groceries and necessities but not to buy a newspaper or magazine to read the fake news?

Why is it that state agencies can use taxpayer funds to foment raising taxes to take even more money from the taxpayers?

The reason is because those select few have extra influence at the Capitol. If you go after the newspaper carve out, they'll smear you for trying to eliminate freedom of the press (and they'll endorse your future opponent). If you go after the wind credits, they'll fund your opponent (tens of millions of dollars goes a long way in campaign contributions). And on and on it goes.

So what's the result? The state budget is balanced on the backs of average Oklahomans. Because the average joe doesn't have a huge force of lobbyists and government affairs directors canvassing the Capitol on their behalf. All they have is two people who are supposed to be fighting for them: their Representative and their Senator.

Our focus should not be on the next election, but on the next generation. Elected officials must remember the purpose for government as outlined in our Declaration of Independence: "that to secure these RIGHTS, governments are instituted among men, deriving their JUST powers from the consent of the governed."

St. Gregory's University in Shawnee, Oklahoma, will be closing its doors at the end of the semester, officials announced yesterday.

The board made 'the difficult, but necessary,' decision following the denial of a loan application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to the announcement. 'Without this component in the financial plan, the ability to sustain the university at this point is not possible. The Board of Directors continues to work actively to resolve financial difficulties and to explore possible partnerships in order to move forward.'

Nothing on the website or in news accounts explain why a college expected to get a loan from the USDA. The college must have already been in dire financial shape to have its existence beyond December hanging on this one loan. Inside Higher Ed's story links to a Shawnee News-Star article from January which links, without elaboration, the de-annexation of the 520-acre campus from the City of Shawnee, USDA-sponsored refinancing of debt, and assistance from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

Originally established as the Catholic University of Oklahoma in 1915, St. Gregory's University, in Shawnee, Oklahoma, St. Gregory's College granted associate's degrees as a junior college until it was accredited in 1997 to offer four-year degrees. The university grew out of the Sacred Heart Mission, founded in 1875. A look at the college's website shows little to distinguish it from other small private colleges -- no core curriculum, the usual assortment of majors, sports, and activities. As a dad in the midst of my second go-round through the college application process, I've seen the piles of brochures from small colleges. Each brochure differs from the next only in the college name, the school colors, and the mascot that appears in a cover photo next to smiling students.

St. Gregory's had recently announced that it would accept the Classic Learning Test, a newly designed standardized college admissions test geared toward classically educated students. St. Gregory's is listed on Wikipedia as one of about three-dozen Ex corde Ecclesiae Catholic universities and colleges, constituted and explicitly governed under Roman Catholic church authority. Many of the other schools on the list are explicit in their aim to be faithful to Catholic doctrine and traditional in their curriculum and teaching methods, like Ave Maria University, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, and Christendom College. For whatever reason, St. Gregory's leadership didn't effectively communicate its apparent countercultural shift to the conservative Catholics in Oklahoma and the region who might have appreciated it.

The higher-ed bubble is starting to burst, and small, non-selective private colleges with few distinctives may be the first to suffer from the drop in demand. (Similarly situated state colleges won't suffer because taxpayers can always be squeezed for more money.) Small private colleges can't keep up with deeper-pocketed schools in the arms race in student amenities. That arms race and the accompanying ad blitz means that local students, once the core of a small college's student body, will be lured away to bigger cities and bigger schools. To compete for out-of-area students to make up for the loss of commuters, a small college has to offer apartment-style housing, food-court-style dining, and on-campus distractions to compensate for the lack of entertainment options in town.

The only way to survive may be to run the other direction -- offer a strong core curriculum, adopt low-tech teaching methods, and make a virtue out of austerity. I'm thinking here of the New College Franklin, where the church library serves as the classroom for Great Books seminars, students board with parishoners, and community organizations serve in lieu of extracurricular activities. Why shouldn't Oklahoma's Benedictine-run college offer a focused but deep curriculum and intentional Catholic spiritual formation and become the school of choice for Catholic students interested in the Benedict Option?

The seventh of the seven charter change propositions on the City of Tulsa November 14, 2017, ballot would add language to the City Charter with the intent of preventing the money from the public safety tax approved in April 2016 to be spent on any other purpose.

Here are direct links to the current text of Tulsa City Charter, Article II, Section 7.1, City Council, Budgets and Tulsa City Charter, Article III, Section 1.4, Mayor, Executive and administrative powers and duties.

The mark-up below shows the how the text of Article II, Section 7.1, and Article III, Section 1.4, would change if Proposition No. 7 is approved, with added text underlined. No text would be removed by this proposition.

Section 7.1. - Budgets.

Prior to the expenditure of general funds, or funds from the sale or issuance of an obligation of the city, or from any other source, the Mayor shall submit to the Council a budget for the expenditure of such funds or amendments to previously adopted budgets. The Council shall adopt budgets or amendments and make appropriations by ordinance, provided, that no revenue derived from the 2017 Public Safety Sales Tax, as set forth in detail in Title 43‐I Tulsa Revised Ordinances, shall ever be budgeted, spent or used for any purpose other than public safety as described therein.

Section 1.4. - Executive and administrative powers and duties.

The Mayor shall be the chief executive and administrative officer of the city and shall:

...

C. Prepare and submit to the Council annually, on or before the first day of May, an operating budget, a capital program, and a capital budget; submit recommendations for amending adopted budgets, provided, that no revenue derived from the 2017 Public Safety Sales Tax, as set forth in detail in Title 43‐I Tulsa Revised Ordinances, shall ever be budgeted, spent or used for any purpose other than public safety as described therein;

While I appreciate the intention behind this, it should be obvious that the proposal won't accomplish what is desired. Making the meaning of language in the City Charter (which can only change with a vote of the people) depend on the language in an ordinance (which can be changed without a vote of the people) makes it easy to undermine the intent of the charter provision without getting public approval to remove it. The Council could vote to redefine public safety to include, say, park maintenance. While such a change would require following the Brown Ordinance process with public notice and public hearing, that wouldn't stop a determined council and mayor. The charter amendment wouldn't make it any harder to redirect or misdirect this money than it already is.

This proposed amendment also does not prevent the council and mayor from redirecting general fund money currently paying for police and fire protection to other purposes, effectively nullifying the intended benefit of approving the earmarked public safety tax. While Title 43-I declares that intent, there is no mandatory language that prohibits reducing general fund spending on police and fire from historic levels or penalizes elected officials who do so. They wouldn't even have to go through a Brown Ordinance process to adopt a budget that cuts general fund spending on public safety.

Finally, even if this amendment could accomplish its intended purpose, earmarking funds hinders flexibility to prioritize spending when revenue drops. Different "colors of money" -- funds from specific sources that can only be spent on specific agencies -- mean that some agencies are swimming in money while higher priority public purposes go unfunded. This is a significant contributor to our current state budget crisis, but it isn't getting the attention it should. Earmarked revenues set up a classic conflict between concentrated benefit and diffuse cost: An agency (and its employees, contractors, and clients) that benefits from this arrangement will zealously defend its earmark, but the cost (finding revenue elsewhere for other government purposes) is spread over too many agencies and taxpayers to incite sufficient support to overcome agency resistance. Politicians respond to this imbalance of passion by backing off of earmark reform -- less hassle to impose a little tax hike on everyone or cut a small amount from a wide swath of government than to deal with the sound and fury of taking dedicated funding from a specific program.

I'll be voting no on Proposition No. 7.

Yesterday, a proposal intended to increase taxes on beer, cigarettes, and gasoline and to increase the gross production tax on the oil industry to fill Oklahoma's budget gap failed to get the three-quarters majority in the State House required to put the taxes into effect without a vote of the people.

State Rep. Kevin Calvey, one of the 29 representatives who voted against the plan, yesterday called on his fellow legislators to plug the current spending gap in the Oklahoma budget with available cash and resist the urge to raise taxes. Adding revenue, he says, allows bad actors in state government to hide corruption and mismanagement, and he offers some specific recommendation. (Emphasis added below.)

Tax Increases Just Cover Up Corruption

Last spring, Dr. Terry Cline, Governor Fallin's then-Secretary of Health, berated me for refusing to vote for tax increases. Last week, Dr. Cline was forced to resign when apparent fraud and/or mismanagement was uncovered at the Department of Health.

The heads of two other agencies which support tax increases are also under investigation.
Makes one wonder: if we had passed all the tax increases last year, would this corruption have remained hidden? I suspect so. The additional money would have filled accounts emptied by mismanagement.

I suspect we've only seen the tip of the iceberg of exposing corruption in state spending, because state agencies have not been independently audited in years!

State government insiders are lying to those who serve vulnerable Oklahomans, telling them that tax increases are necessary to preserve services, when there is enough available cash to plug the current $214 million gap without any tax increase. These lies cause needless anxiety to the vulnerable, causing them to pressure legislators for tax increases.

Perhaps now we are seeing the real reason for the increasingly desperate attempts by government insiders to raise your taxes. The insiders need tax increases to cover up the corruption.

The insiders have raised taxes by $500 million these last two years. Instead of more tax increases, we should audit state agencies to expose corruption and waste. Even before auditing, we can identify more than enough potential savings to fill the current gap, cover next year's expected shortfall, and raise teacher pay. Here's a sampling:

  • Roll back Big Wind subsidies. Over a billion of your tax dollars have subsidized corporate welfare for huge wind companies, often foreign-owned, which provide almost no jobs. (By contrast, the oil and gas industry employs over 150,000 and pays 25% of all Oklahoma taxes).
  • Trim university administration costs. Oklahoma's universities have administrative costs 70% higher than the national average. Reducing administration to the national average saves $374 million annually.
  • Shift more education dollars to teachers. Who got the money from House Bill 1017 and the lottery that "saved" education? Administrators and other non-teacher costs. Rolling back this noninstructional staffing surge saves $373 million annually, to raise teacher pay by $8000.
  • Increase low-income scholarships. A recent OCU study shows every $1 spent on the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit leverages private donations to save $1.24 for the state budget, and produces $2.58 for education. Increasing the cap on this credit saves taxpayers millions and helps low-income children.
  • Reserve TSET funds for Medicaid. The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) spends money on ads for smoke-free strip clubs and drag shows, among other waste. Reserving TSET for Medicaid saves at least $85 million annually.
  • Criminal justice reform. I'm tough on crime- I prosecuted terrorists for the Army in Iraq. Let's be tough on crime in a cost-efficient way. Too many Oklahomans are jailed for what amounts to debt collection, often for minor offenses.

If we raise taxes now, we will never expose the corruption or cure the state's spending addiction.

MORE: State Rep. Tess Teague, another vote against yesterday's tax bill, but who voted for an increase in the gross production tax last week, explained her vote in a press release:

I voted against it because this was not the right way to fix the problem. Because I knocked doors for a year and half and I know that House District 101 does not want more taxation. Because I believe in standing firm in my principles and 65% of this district sent me to the Capitol because they believed I would do just that....

Many people think that this was our last option and that since this failed, several critical services and programs will end. Let me be clear, that is not true. Please do not fall prey to fear-mongering. There are other options and we will get them passed.

​Last week the House passed a series of bills that would use cash on hand to fund DHS, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority fully until April, giving us more time to work and preventing any cuts. The Senate has refused to hear those bills and instead sent us an unconstitutional, log-rolled bill in the form of a $500 million tax increase package. Does that make sense? Right now we're dealing with state agencies who have committed fraud and mismanagement with tax payer dollars, yet instead of conducting the necessary audits and finding efficiencies in government....we're going to our citizens with our hands out saying "Give us more!!" before addressing those issues. I refuse to punish the citizens of this state by making them pay for a problem they did not create.

The sixth of the seven charter change propositions on the City of Tulsa November 14, 2017, ballot would change the rules regarding the political involvement of city employees protected under civil service and sworn public safety employees. A yes vote on Proposition No. 6 would allow civil service city employees and firefighters to attend and speak at the public meetings of the City Council and any other municipal board and commission. They would also be allowed to campaign while off-duty and out of uniform.

Here are direct links to the current text of Tulsa City Charter, Article X, Section 10.1, Civil Service Commission and Merit System, Political Activities Prohibited and Tulsa City Charter, Article XI, Section 5.1, Fire Department, Political Activities Prohibited.

The mark-up below shows the how the text of Article X, Section 10.1, and Article XI, Section 5.1, would change if Proposition No. 6 is approved, with added text underlined, and deleted text stricken.

ARTICLE X. CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION AND MERIT SYSTEM.

Section 10.1. ‐ Political Activities Prohibited Permitted.

No person in the classified service shall take an active part in any campaign for the election of officers of the city, except to vote and privately state a personal opinion.

Municipal employees in the classified service may attend and express their views at city council meetings, or any other public meetings of municipal entities. Any municipal employee in the classified service may actively participate in partisan and nonpartisan political activities. Provided, the political activity in which the employee participates shall be exercised only during off‐duty hours and while not in uniform. Any federal statutes restricting the political activities of certain municipal employees shall supersede the provisions of this section as to such employees.

ARTICLE XI. FIRE DEPARTMENT

Section 5.1. ‐ Political Activities Prohibited Permitted.

No chief, officer, or sworn member of the Fire Department shall take an active part in any campaign for the election of officers of the city, except to vote and privately state a personal opinion.

Any chief, officer, or sworn members of the Fire Department may attend and express their views at city council meetings, or any other public meetings of municipal entities. Any chief, officer, or sworn member of the Fire Department may actively participate in partisan and nonpartisan political activities. Provided, the political activity in which the employee participates shall be exercised only during off‐duty hours and while not in uniform. Any federal statutes restricting the political activities of certain municipal employees shall supersede the provisions of this section as to such employees.

Prohibitions against soliciting campaign contributions would not be affected.

I can appreciate the proposition that city workers should be able to speak at public meetings, whether it is a situation unrelated to their job (a zoning case in their neighborhood) or an issue where their job knowledge could shed some valuable light.

The civil service bargain is this: The election result won't cost you your government job, but in exchange for that security, you agree not to act publicly to try to influence that result. This is the opposite of old spoils system, where public employees would campaign for incumbents in hopes of keeping their jobs and citizens would campaign for challengers in hopes of getting city jobs.

Even Franklin Roosevelt, that friend of organized labor and expander of government, opposed collective bargaining and strikes by public employee unions, seeing the hazard these practices would pose to the public interest. An unsavory alliance between public-employee unions and state and local elected officials have created political machines reminiscent of the old spoils system, and these political machines have driven local governments into default, unable to keep the promises that were used to buy the votes and volunteering of public-employee unions.

The current ban acts as a protection. A city employee whose political views might differ from the majority of his union can avoid having that dissent exposed in a way that could sour his relationships with union stewards, co-workers, and supervisors. When asked to campaign for a candidate or cause, he has a ready excuse to keep his views to himself. The proposed modification would strip that excuse away.

A more narrowly drafted modification allowing employees to speak on city issues would be worth considering, but a wholesale change to allow employees to campaign for or against the people who will decide their raises is a dangerous step in the direction of bankrupt cities across America. I'm voting no on Proposition No. 6.

MORE: A recent article in National Affairs details the rise of public-employee unions and the unique dangers posed by their participation in politics.

A 2012 Reuters story explains how San Bernardino, California, went from middle-class city to bankrupt basket case:

Yet on close examination, the city's decades-long journey from prosperous, middle-class community to bankrupt, crime-ridden, foreclosure-blighted basket case is straightforward -- and alarmingly similar to the path traveled by many municipalities around America's largest state. San Bernardino succumbed to a vicious circle of self-interests among city workers, local politicians and state pension overseers.

Little by little, over many years, the salaries and retirement benefits of San Bernardino's city workers -- and especially its police and firemen -- grew richer and richer, even as the city lost its major employers and gradually got poorer and poorer.

Unions poured money into city council elections, and the city council poured money into union pay and pensions. The California Public Employees' Retirement System (Calpers), which manages pension plans for San Bernardino and many other cities, encouraged ever-sweeter benefits. Investment bankers sold clever bond deals to pay for them. Meanwhile, state law made it impossible to raise local property taxes and difficult to boost any other kind.

No single deal or decision involving benefits and wages over the years killed the city. But cumulatively, they built a pension-fueled financial time-bomb that finally exploded.

MORE: City Finance Director Mike Kier writes, in his personal capacity, concerned that city employees who want to remain on the political sidelines lose their cover if Prop 6 is approved.

I am concerned that employee participation in political campaigns will undermine the existing merit system, which replaced a patronage system in the 1950s. Will employment decisions be based on merit, or will they be based on the employee's political activity? When political activities are allowed, they can be expected; and when expected they can be required. Employment decisions at all levels could be challenged as retaliation or reward for political activities. How will department heads and managers adjust to the political activities by employees or to expectations for their own activity? How will City Council staff members adjust from prohibited to allowed political activity, a change which most of the Council supports?

The fifth of the seven charter change propositions on the City of Tulsa November 14, 2017, ballot would change the makeup and responsibilities of the Election District Commission, which redraws the City Council district lines after each Federal decennial census. A yes vote on Proposition No. 5 would expand the size of the commission from three members to five, make all of them mayoral appointees, subject to council confirmation, and add contractors and city employees to the category of those ineligible to serve. The five-member commission would include two registered Republicans, two registered Democrats, and one registered independent. The commission's meetings would be subject to the state Open Meetings Act. A sentence added to Article VI, Section 10.2 would direct the commission to follow some specific criteria regarding boundaries, partisan composition, and racial and ethnic demographics.

Here is a direct link to the current text of Tulsa City Charter, Article VI, Section 10.1.

The mark-up below shows the how the text of Article VI, Sections 10.1 and 10.2 would change if Proposition No. 5 is approved, with added text underlined, and deleted text stricken.

SECTION 10.1. - ELECTION DISTRICT COMMISSION.

There is hereby created an Election District Commission which shall consist of five (5) three (3) members. The governing body of the two (2) political parties having the largest number of registered voters within the city as of the date of the preceding general election shall each appoint one (1) member of the Election District Commission. The Mayor shall appoint one (1) member, to be appointed by the Mayor subject to confirmation by a majority vote of the entire membership of the Council. Of the five (5) said members, two (2) shall be affitliated with the political party having the largest number of registered voters within the city as of the date of the preceding general election, two (2) shall be affiliated with the political party having the second largest number of such voters, and one (l) shall be an independent voter. Said members shall not have changed their political party affiliation within the last year. All members shall be registered voters and residents of the City of Tulsa. No two (2) of the members shall be residents of the same Council district at the time of their appointment. The appointments shall be made and the Election District Commission shall be organized no later than the 31st day of January, 1991, and no later than the 31st day of January 1st day of July, 2021, and no later than the 1st day of July of each tenth year thereafter. In the event the members of the Election District Commission are not appointed within the times herein provided, such appointments shall be made by the Presiding Judge of the District Court of Tulsa County. Persons holding an elected office shall be ineligible for appointment to the Election District Commission. No City of Tulsa employee, contractor or elected official shall be appointed to serve on the Election District Commission. If a vacancy shall occur in the Election District Commission, a qualified successor shall be appointed within twenty (20) days after the date the vacancy occurs as provided for original appointments.

SECTION 10.2. - ADJUSTMENT OF ELECTION DISTRICT BOUNDARIES.

The Election District Commission shall adjust the boundaries of Election Districts each ten (10) years after the completion of the Federal Decennial Census. The Election District Commission shall determine the population of the city and each existing election district according to the preceding Federal Decennial Census and shall prepare a proposed Election District Plan. The Election District Commission shall consider natural and neighborhood boundaries, shall disregard partisan considerations, and shall avoid diluting minority votes. Each district shall consist of contiguous, compact territory and be as nearly equal in population as possible. The district boundary lines shall conform with precinct boundary lines. The Election District Plan shall establish the population and boundaries of each election district. The proposed Election District Plan shall include a map and description of the districts. The Election District Commission shall hold at least one (1) public hearing on the proposed Election District Plan. Notice of the hearing shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the city at least ten (10) days prior to the date of the hearing. All meetings of the Election District Commission shall be open meetings as regulated by the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act, Title 25, Oklahoma Statutes, Section 301 and following.

If you scroll back through council minutes, you'll find alternative, rejected versions that would have allowed the City Auditor to serve or to nominate a member and that would have required members to reside in different quadrants of the city. Instead, the City Council chose a version that allows the mayor to pick all the members.

I will be voting no on Proposition No. 5. Long-time readers will know that fair redistricting has been a passion of mine for decades. In fact, it was the subject of my first published essay, in May 1991, back when condemnation of gerrymandering wasn't fashionable because Democrats were creating the gerrymanders.

The principle of separation of powers, with separate, co-equal institutions responsible for executive and legislative responsibilities, is a safeguard against corruption and tyranny. Giving the mayor the ability to pick all the members of the commission redrawing district lines gives him too much power over the body that is charged with scrutinizing his performance and keeping him in check.

By that measure, the existing system is already broken. In 2011, Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr not only had his own appointee to the commission under the charter, but a Bartlett Jr partisan was appointed by the GOP county chairman, giving Bartlett Jr and his Cockroach Caucus allies the ability to severely damage the reelection chances of the councilors he had alienated. Councilor John Eagleton, Bartlett Jr's most eloquent critic, was drawn out of his own District 7. Districts 3, 4, and 5 were redrawn to encompass a large number of new voters who would not have a relationship with the incumbent councilors, but would instead have their opinions formed by big-money campaigns painting them as bickering naysayers.

The new proposal doesn't fix the problem, but instead makes it worse. The council would have to confirm the mayor's appointments to the board under Proposition 5, but it is easy to imagine scenarios where a mayor would join with enough cronies on the council to form a majority. This cabal could fill the Election District Commission with minions who would redraw the lines to create safe seats for the mayor's friends and undermine any councilor who offered skepticism or resistance.

The redistricting problem is already well-constrained by the charter and amenable to an automated or semi-automated solution: You have about 180 precincts, and you have to distribute them into 9 contiguous groups of precincts with similar population. Define a few "core areas" encompassing communities of interest which ought to be included in a single district -- e.g., west of the river, the Money Belt, far north Tulsa -- then start the process by adding single precincts to each of these cores until the population is close to the ideal. Another approach would be to start with existing districts and make the minimal number of reassignments to make the numbers work.

If you must include people in the process, there are ways to create a commission that isn't compromised by self-interest. In 1991, I suggested using unsuccessful candidates to draw a rival redistricting plan; the voters would then decide between that plan and the legislature's plan. Constrained sortition is another approach: Let interested citizens apply to serve, lightly screen them with a test of geographical and numerical comprehension, and then draw nine names out of a hat to form the commission.

Like the election calendar, the redistricting process deserves careful and thorough examination and public debate, not a quick patch that seems

To adapt something I wrote in 2011 in advance of the first Republican-majority redistricting process at the State Capitol: Taking a fair approach to redistricting means preserving the right of voters to fire their representatives. It's a matter of accountability and fairness to the voters; fairness to the minority faction is merely a side effect. Lines ought to be drawn with regard to communities of interest, without regard to incumbent political interest.

The fourth of the seven charter change propositions on the City of Tulsa November 14, 2017, ballot would once again scramble our city election process. A yes vote on Proposition No. 4 would modify three separate sections of Article VI (Election and Qualification of Officers), with the effect that the three-stage system we currently have would be reduced to two stages, the June primary would be eliminated, the general election would be moved from November to August (the same date as the state runoff election), and what is now described as the general election in November would be called a runoff.

The mark-up below shows the how the text would change if Proposition No. 4 is approved, with added text underlined, and deleted text stricken.

SECTION 1.3. - GENERAL ELECTIONS.

In November in the year 2011, and in November In August in the year 2018, and in August each year thereafter in which an elected officer's term expires, a general election shall be held on the day specified by the laws of Oklahoma for the election of those officers whose terms expire.

SECTION 2.2. - ELECTION PROCEDURE.

In the calendar year of the adoption of this amendment of the Charter2018, and in each year thereafter in which an elected officer's term expires, a primarygeneral election shall be held in August on the day specified by the laws of Oklahoma, at which time the qualified electors of the city shall nominate candidates forfill the officeoffices of those whose terms expire. Only qualified electors residing in an election district may vote in the primary election for candidates for the office of Councilor for such election district. All qualified electors residing in the city may vote in the primary election for candidates for a city-wide office such as Mayor or City Auditor. If a candidate for office is unopposed at the primary election or becomes unopposed by death, disqualification or withdrawal, such candidate shall be deemed elected. If a candidate for an office receives more than fifty percent (50%) of all votes cast for that office at the primary election, such candidate shall be deemed elected. If only two (2) candidates file for an office, there shall be no primary election, and the names of the two (2) candidates shall be placed on the ballot at the general election. If more than two (2) candidates file for an office and no candidate receives more than fifty percent (50%) of all votes cast at the primary election for that office, the two (2) names of the several candidates for eachthe office receiving the greatest number of votes totaling fifty percent (50%) at such primary elections shall be deemed nominated and placed on the ballot at the generala run-off election, unless the number of votes for such two (2) candidates does not exceed fifty percent (50%) of all votes cast for that office; in that event the several candidates in November, on the day specified by the laws of Oklahoma, and the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes and for whom the votes cast at the primary election total at least fifty percent (50%) of all votes cast for that office shall participate in a run-off primary election in which the two (2) candidates for each office receiving the greatest number of votes at suchsaid run-off primary election shall be deemed nominated and placed onelected. In the ballot atevent of a tied vote among the generalsaid candidates, the election shall be decided by lot.

SECTION 3.4. - TIME OF FILING.

Beginning in the calendar year of the adoption of this amendment of the Charter 2018, Declarations of Candidacy shall be filed with the Secretary of the appropriate Election Board no earlier than 8:00 o'clock a.m. on the second Monday in April June and no later than 5:00 o'clock p.m. on the next succeeding Wednesday of any year in which an elected officer's term expires.

Here is a link to the current text of Tulsa City Charter Article VI.

The ballot title reads:

Shall the City Charter of the City of Tulsa, Article VI, 'Election and Qualification of Officers', be amended to hold elections for City offices in August of an election year, require candidates for City offices to file their candidacy in June, and provide for run-off elections, whenever necessary, in November?

Five times between 2006 and 2012 the City of Tulsa made significant changes to the election process: changed the election calendar, lengthened then shortened terms of office, converted elections from partisan to non-partisan. 2016 was the first mayoral election to be held reflecting all of those changes. This latest proposed change would be the sixth modification in 11 years. This instability reflects a failure by voters and councilors to think carefully about the electoral process as a complex system. The election process is too important to be subjected to ill-considered, whimsical alterations.

I've written what turned out to be a lengthy history of all the changes to Tulsa's city election process since the council-mayor form of government was adopted in 1989. Because it was so long, I've broken it out as a separate entry.

The proposed amendment on next Tuesday's ballot is intended to fix the long lame-duck problem that surfaced after the 2016 election, when challenger Tweedledee IV earned more than 50% of the vote against incumbent Mayor Tweedledum Jr in the June primary. The new mayor-elect had to wait five months before taking office. (I've seen worse: Rogers County Treasurer Jason Carini had to wait an entire year between defeating incumbent Cathy Pinkerton Smith in the June 2014 primary and taking office at the beginning of July 2015.)

The proposed fix will create other problems. The new proposal would have a general election in August on the same date as the state partisan runoff election and a top-two runoff, if no one wins a majority, in November. If a party primary for governor, senator, or congressman has no clear winner (very likely in 2018 with a half-dozen candidates already seeking to replace Mary Fallin), August could be a high-turnout election, with lopsided turnout for one party (Republican, most likely) having a lopsided effect on non-partisan city elections.

There are other methods to fix the problem exposed by the 2016 mayor's race. The process for electing non-partisan at-large district judge in our Judicial District has a primary if there are more than two candidates, and the top two candidates in the primary face each other on the November general election ballot, even if one of the candidates received a majority of the vote in the June primary (26 O. S. 11-112). This is because eight of our district judge positions are nominated by Tulsa County voters, one is nominated by Pawnee County voters, but both Tulsa and Pawnee Counties voters decide the winner in November.

Nevertheless the top-two-regardless process could be justified even if the universe of potential primary voters and the universe of potential general voters were coextensive. Voting history statistics suggest that large numbers of eligible voters sit out the primary and let the primary voters winnow the choices to a number they can get their minds around. I wonder how many City of Tulsa voters sat out last June's primary thinking they'd get to vote for the top two candidates in November. With those expectations at work, you could justify borrowing the judicial election rules so that the June vote only narrows the field and never picks the winner.

But the pros and cons of the proposal on the ballot, the proposal outlined above, the previous short-lived systems ought to be discussed and compared side-by-side before we approve any further changes to our election system. We need to have a thorough city-wide discussion about the kind of system we want. Do we want to separate city elections from federal elections, so that there can be more focus on city issues? Should we require charter amendments, bond issues, and tax increases to be considered only on general election ballots? Do we want a first-past-the-post system, simple and quick, but apt to give us officials without a majority mandate; a multi-tiered runoff system, which takes time, but allows voters to focus on smaller numbers of candidates in later stages; or instant runoff voting, quick, but requires voters to consider and rank all the candidates at the same time?

Until we have a commission on city elections to debate and evaluate the possibilities before making recommendations, I will be voting no on every piecemeal modification to the City of Tulsa election process.

ONE MORE THING: Prop. 4 would effectively convert Tulsa's election system into a Louisiana-style jungle primary. In a 2006 UTW column, I explained that a top-two single-runoff voting system can produce results like the 1991 Louisiana gubernatorial primary, in which the two candidates that advanced to the runoff -- Edwin Edwards aka "the Crook" and David Duke aka "the Klansman" -- were widely despised by the population. Incumbent Gov. Buddy Roemer finished a very close third. Any one of several small contingencies could have produced a different result with a governor acceptable to a majority of the public.

Here is a brief history of all the changes to the City of Tulsa Charter, Article VI, Elections. That link leads to the current text of Article VI and the text of each change, with the ballot language and election results of each.

When Tulsa adopted a mayor-council form of government in 1989, it retained the same election schedule that had been used under the commission form of government, holding elections in the spring of even-numbered years, except that under the new charter the mayor's term was doubled from two to four years. As under the previous charter, elections remained partisan.

1990-1994: The three-day filing period began on the second Monday in January, party primaries were held on the first Tuesday in February, and the general election was held on the first Tuesday in March, except for the initial 1990 general election, which was set for the first Tuesday in April. Terms of office began first Monday in April, except for the initial terms under the new charter, which began on the first Monday in May.

1996-2006: At the 1994 general election, voters approved a charter change moving the general election one week later, to the second Tuesday in March. This schedule remained in place through the 2006 election cycle. The only change to the election process during this period was the addition of a $50 filing fee -- really a deposit, refundable if a candidate won the primary or general or achieved at least 15% of the vote.

It was toward the end of this period that the tinkering with the election process began in earnest.

2008: A 2006 ballot question moved the city primary and general elections, beginning in 2008, to coincide with state election dates in February and April and to reduce the number of times citizens had to go to the polls. Prior to that time, the primary was set for the first Tuesday, with school-board elections following on the second Tuesday, then the city general on the 2nd Tuesday in March, and school-board runoffs (if necessary) on the 1st Tuesday in April. The new charter language did not name a specific Tuesday but referred to whichever Tuesday of that month would be authorized in state statutes for an election; practically speaking, this would be the same dates specified by state statute for school elections.

But the 2008 Tulsa primary wasn't held in Februrary as prescribed by charter. Instead, at the request of the Tulsa County Election Board, it was moved to March, so as not to complicate the process of giving the correct ballots to each voter, with the partisan presidential and non-partisan school primaries occurring at the same election. They wanted to avoid the SNAFU of four years earlier, when the 2004 city primaries were held on the same date as a heavily-contested Democratic presidential primary. (Republican voters in at least one precinct were given Democratic city primary ballots, enough to exceed the margin of victory in the David Patrick vs. Roscoe Turner rematch. The election was declared invalid and the race had to be re-run; Turner won.)

Meanwhile, more radical changes to city government and the election schedule had been under discussion.

After grassroots candidates won a majority of the council seats in 2004, special interest groups (which collectively I referred to as the Cockroach Caucus) sought to undermine the result, first by targeting two councilors, Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino, with a recall election, held on July 12, 2005. Both councilors won the right to retain their seats by a wide margin. Next, many of the same individuals and groups launched a petition drive to add at-large seats to the City Council, diluting geographical representation. When that petition drive stalled, then-Mayor Bill LaFortune established a Citizens' Commission on City Government to study possible amendments to the charter. Chaired by Ken Levit and Hans Helmerich, the commission met over several months, then issued a final report in June 2006.

The commission recommended against a change to the structure of the City Council, but recommended moving to non-partisan elections and to moving the elections to the fall of odd-numbered years. The move to the fall would allow door-to-door campaigning in better weather and longer days, and new officials would have some months to get their bearings before having to produce a budget for the following fiscal year. The spring election calendar left little daylight for door-to-door campaigns, and new officials took office just in time to create next year's budget. The change to election dates was considered in 2007 as part of the standard charter amendment process, put on the April 2008 ballot, and was approved by the voters.

Non-partisan elections were not placed on the ballot by the City Council; in 2009 an initiative petition for non-partisan elections circulated by "Tulsans for Better Government" was ruled invalid in form and to have fallen short of the required number of signatures.

2009: Filing for city offices for three days beginning the second Monday in July, primary election on the state election date (second Tuesday) in September, and general election on the state election date in November (second Tuesday in odd-numbered years). This system, which had been vetted by a commission and subjected to extensive public debate, lasted only one election cycle.

2011: In 2009, some councilors got the idea that three-year staggered terms would be better -- wouldn't have to run as often, wouldn't have as much turnover at each election. In November 2009, at the very first general election held under the new fall, odd-year election schedule, voters foolishly approved the change. All nine seats were up for a vote in 2011, but the terms were one year for districts 1, 4, and 7, two years for 2, 5, 8, three years for 3, 6, 9, with all subsequent terms being three years. One of the awkward things about this plan was that council districts with terms expiring in odd-numbered years would have a September primary and a 2nd Tuesday in November general election, coinciding with the auditor's race and, every four years, the mayor's race, while council districts with terms expiring in even-numbered years would have an August primary coinciding with the state runoff election and a November general coinciding with the statewide or presidential election. A contentious senatorial runoff could completely change the numbers likely to turn out and vote in a council race, boosting the number of voters who hadn't been paying attention to the local races.

2012: In 2011, at the very first election under the system approved in 2009, voters approved yet another change, making elections non-partisan, and moving to a primary, runoff, general system to coincide with statewide and presidential elections. The amendment unwound the previous calendar reforms, setting Districts 1, 4, and 7 to go back to the two-year term beginning in 2012, and the remaining districts to serve truncated terms to start two-year terms beginning in 2014. The next mayor's race would remain in 2013, but the following election would be moved up to 2016 and coincide with presidential elections thereafter.

These changes got on the ballot by means of an initiative petition, backed by the same Cockroach Caucus (this time under the name "Save Our Tulsa") that had been trying for years to make it harder for grassroots candidates on a shoestring budget to win council seats. A councilor who didn't need big money to get elected wouldn't be beholden to the Cockroach Caucus. If they can't get back to the good old days when the City Commissioners all lived within a Par 5 of each other, they can at least make sure the councilors' string-pullers all live in the Money Belt. Statewide and presidential elections bring in a ton of voters who aren't paying attention to city issues and are likely to vote for the council candidate with the most expensive publicity -- at least that's the idea. Without a party label on the ballot, voters would have fewer clues to remind them for whom they intended to vote; this too would make voters more likely to vote for the candidates with the biggest budget.

The non-partisan proposal also created a system of three elections -- a primary in September, a runoff on some unspecified date (if no two candidates received a combined 50% of the vote in the primary), and a general election in November between the top two candidates remaining either from the primary or run-off primary. (I explained the process in detail here, although the method approved in 2011 had already been tweaked by the time the 2013 election rolled around.)

2013-present: A further amendment to Article VI, approved in June 2012, eliminated the language that set September as the primary election date, so that the city primary, runoff, and general election would be held on the same dates as the corresponding state elections, and it moved the city filing period from July to April in an attempt to match the state filing period (a claim made by the ballot title). But the language of the amendment set the filing period as the second Monday to the following Wednesday; meanwhile the state, in 2011, had changed its filing period to the second Wednesday to the following Friday. In most years, the city filing period would come first, with a day's overlap with the state filing period, but in years when April begins on Tuesday or Wednesday, the state filing period would be at the end of the first full week in April and the city filing period would be at the beginning of the following week.

In 2013, Bill Christiansen and two other candidates were eliminated in the June primary, there was no August runoff, and Dewey Bartlett Jr and Kathy Taylor were on the ballot in November. In 2016, there were only two well-financed candidates, and Tweedledum IV managed to defeat incumbent Tweedledee Jr and receive more than 50% of the vote in June, winning the election then and leaving a five month lame-duck period before the Mayor-elect would take office.

Proposition 4 on the November 2017 city special election ballot would revert to a two-tier non-partisan election system, with a general election on the same date as the August statewide/federal partisan runoff, and a runoff election, if necessary, on the same date as the November statewide/federal general election.

Reformation begins with the rediscovery of God's Word:

And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, "I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord." And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.... Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, "Hilkiah the priest has given me a book." And Shaphan read it before the king.

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king's servant, saying, "Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us."...

Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. And the king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant.

And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel. And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord, outside Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron and beat it to dust and cast the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah. And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beersheba. And he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one's left at the gate of the city. However, the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers. And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech. And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the precincts. And he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. And the altars on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars that Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the Lord, he pulled down and broke in pieces and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron. And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And he broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with the bones of men.

Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place he pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah....

And the king commanded all the people, "Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant." For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem.

Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.

-- from II Kings 22 and 23 (ESV)

Solomon's Temple still stood, filled with glorious riches. The priestly line of Aaron was unbroken, and priests and Levites continued to make sacrifices and offerings in the traditions that had been handed down to them from their predecessors, going back centuries.

But when King Josiah ordered a renovation of the temple in 623 BC, the Book of the Law was rediscovered. It was read to him, and he responded with grief and repentance, realizing how far his nation had strayed from God's commandments. He made a covenant in the sight of the Lord "to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book." The king purged pagan worship. Under Josiah's leadership the Passover, which God had commanded to be observed annually to remember His mighty deliverance of Israel from Egypt, was observed for the first time since the prophet Samuel's day -- over 400 years earlier.

The restoration of the true worship of God was not accomplished by means of priestly tradition. It was priestly tradition that had led the nation away from God's commandments. The true worship of God was restored when God's written Word was rediscovered.

As in the 7th century B. C., so in the 16th century A. D. Centuries of syncretism and simony had obscured the teachings of Christ and His apostles. The Christians of western Europe were burdened with a mechanistic penitential system that effectively promised salvation for money. The Book, God's Word, was mumbled in Latin if spoken at all, unavailable to the common people in a language they could understand.

But then the Book was rediscovered. Manuscripts of the Scriptures in the original Hebrew and Greek were compiled and published using the new technology of movable type. God's Word was newly translated into Latin, the language of scholarship, and into the vernacular languages of Europe. As clergy, secular rulers, and the laity read God's Word for the first time in centuries, they rent their garments as they realized how far the Church of Rome had strayed from the Scriptures. As in the days of King Josiah, God's Word was the plumb line by which the straightness of doctrine (orthodoxy) and worship (orthopraxy) was measured, and the church was found in need of rectification.

In control systems -- e.g., your car's cruise control, a thermostat, an aircraft autopilot system -- attaining the desired speed, temperature, or position requires constant comparison of the actual condition to the desired, ideal condition. The error between the ideal and the actual is calculated, and a new command is issued to correct for that error, bringing the actual in line with the ideal by means of a negative feedback loop. If no effort is made to compare the actual state to the standard, feedback is impossible, making correction impossible, and causing the actual to drift further and further from the ideal.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord remains forever. May those who lead the people of God be ever vigilant to correct teaching and practice by God's Word alone.

George Weigel, a Roman Catholic theologian, has some words for his own church about reformation that American Evangelicals can usefully heed. Reform is not mere change, but restoration of a form that once existed but has been lost.

Authentic Christian reform, in other words, is not a matter of human cleverness, and still less of human willfulness. If the Church is willed by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, then authentic reform means recovering - making a source of renewal - some aspect or other of the Church's "form" that has been lost, marred, misconceived, or even forgotten. Authentic reform means reaching back and bringing into the future something that has been lost in the Church's present. Authentic ecclesial reform is always re-form....

Weigel quotes Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, writing in 1970 and looking ahead to the end of the century:

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge - a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so she will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members.... But in all the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world....

Weigel elaborates:

What Ratzinger was outlining here was not a plan, but the reality of ecclesia semper reformanda in the late-modern and postmodern West. Genetically transmitted Christianity - the faith passed along by ethnic custom - was finished. Virtually no one in the Church of the twenty-first century, Ratzinger saw in 1970, would be able to answer the question, "Why are you a Christian?" by replying, "Because my great-grandmother was born in Bavaria" (or County Cork, or Cracow, or Guadalajara, or Palermo - or even South Boston). The only faith possible under late-modern and postmodern conditions is faith freely embraced in a free decision, made possible by an encounter with the risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Therefore, whatever institutions of ecclesial life would remain after what Ratzinger dubbed "the trial of this sifting" (which he believed had been underway for more than a century) would have to reconceive themselves as launching pads for mission, communities where those who had received the gift of faith would have to learn how to offer it to others. That gift would not bring with it, as in the past, social status. But it would bring something far more important: it would bring hope, rooted in faith and exercised in charity.

Although genetically transmitted Christianity is historically associated with Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, but there are many regions and communities around the world where being a Methodist or Southern Baptist or Pentecostal is a part of one's family identity.

The terms of Weigel's conclusion may sound as strange to Catholic ears as they are familiar to evangelical ears.

All of which is to say that the reformation we need at this quincentenary of Wittenberg is a re-formed Church of saints. The cultural dissolution of the West precludes arguing people into the faith. Very few people are going to be argued into belief in a world that accepts "your truth" and "my truth," but not the truth. Yes, the Church needs theologians. Yes, the Church needs fully catechized men and women who can make persuasive arguments, but what the reformed Church of the twenty-first century needs most are witnesses: men and women on fire with missionary zeal, because they have been embraced by the love of Christ and are passionate to share that love with others; men and women who see the world through a biblical optic; men and women sanctified by the sacraments; men and women who know, with Saint Paul, that the trials of the present age are preparing within the ecclesia semper reformanda an "eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17).

In the spotlight

Specific language and detailed analysis of the seven proposed amendments to the Tulsa City Charter, plus a bonus: a timeline of the history of changes to Tulsa's municipal election process.

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Latest links of interest:

ACLU Threatens to Stamp Out Diversity by Shuttering Faith-Based Adoption Agencies

"Specifically, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state of Michigan over a 2015 law that allows religious adoption agencies to decline placing children with same-sex parents, in accordance with their religious convictions.

"If the ACLU prevails in court, it would overturn the Michigan law and force numerous faith-based adoption agencies to choose between following their beliefs about marriage and family, or going out of business, leaving thousands of foster children out in the cold without families.

"Despite the ACLU's attacks, Michigan's law is neither unconventional nor unprecedented. It simply preserves the status quo in which religious adoption agencies and foster families can serve children on equal terms with secular adoption agencies and foster families."

Alice's Oxford | Peter Hitchens | First Things

Peter Hitchens writes (beautifully)of the Oxford of the past, the Oxford of the imagination, and the Oxford of today.

"So as I walk along the riverside pathways, or slip into the college gardens at dusk, as autumn turns to winter, I am seldom free of the fictional Oxford, or of the small part of its immense, intricate past that I myself have seen. Here I watched England change from being one sort of country to another. That parking lot was a cattle market, fragrant with the smell of damp livestock, herded by suspicious, terse men in brown tweeds, with boiled red faces, for whom the market pubs stayed open all the day. That apartment block was a brewery, whose yeasty stink perfumed the whole city every Wednesday, as that week's mild and bitter, brown and pale ales were made by the methods of the middle ages. That tourist café was a used bookshop, room after room of tottering piles of aged volumes, its uneven staircase climbing upwards almost to the rafters, classics read, sold, reread, and resold over decades by forgotten students. That university building was a grammar school where girls from housing project estates were introduced to Shakespeare and the sciences. Now only money can buy you that, and the children of the poor know nothing of these things. That pretentious hotel was a prison, where men had been hanged for murder and buried in the precincts, within living memory. Now we have none of that sort of thing, but we have more murder, and if our trauma surgeons were not as brilliant as they are, we would have even more of it, for the knife is now a horribly common weapon.  And these colleges, now so modern, gender-fluid, multicultural and progressive, were stern all-male institutions, whose doors were barred at night against the opposite sex and whose walls were savagely spiked to stop adventurers climbing in (and out) on feline expeditions."

Musician Cindy Cashdollar injured in Marbletown accident

Wishing the immensely talented Ms. Cashdollar, formerly with the western swing band Asleep at the Wheel, a speedy (west) recovery.

"Grammy Award-winning musician Cindy Cashdollar was injured Thursday when she fell asleep at the wheel on U.S. Route 209 and crashed into a tree, according to the Ulster County Sheriff's Office....

"Cashdollar suffered numerous cuts and complained of head and neck pain and was taken to the HealthAlliance Hospital's Broadway Campus in Kingston by Marbletown Rescue, the Sheriff's Office said."

Against Princeton | R. R. Reno | First Things

R. R. Reno writes:

"Not only have Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and other elite universities become decadent, they have failed in their self-appointed task. The leaders they proffer our society are increasingly incapable of leading. Our academic leaders oversee a campus culture often riven by conflict. These schools have become hotbeds for identity politics, and administrators kowtow to student extremists. Meanwhile, graduates too often condescend to ordinary citizens, thinking them ignorant bigots or 'takers.'...

"The culture of our time is not overseen by old-fashioned Methodist matrons in the Midwest, nor do today's opinion-leaders emerge from ag schools. Charles Blow is the only regular columnist for the New York Times under sixty years old who did not go to an elite university. For the last half-century, graduates from places like Princeton have been in charge. They are making a wreck of things--not for themselves, of course, but for the rest of society.


"Over the same period of time, these institutions have become fully owned subsidiaries of the Democratic Party. This hyper-partisanship has contributed to the polarization of our politics. Instead of engaging the range of political and moral thinking that has shaped and continues to shape public life, our talented future leaders are fed a party line. Young people are not trained at these schools to be judicious, generous partisans in our political battles. The ideological homogeneity makes liberal students smug and insular--and conservative students radical and combative. There's no denying a simple fact: Elite universities, subsidized by gigantic endowments, have failed as civic institutions."

Christianity Is Just A Better Religion Than I | The Daily Caller

Allan Fimister writes: "This is the West's problem: in itself Christendom, armed with truth and right and freedom, has more than enough resources to resist and overcome any rival civilization. But the 'renaissance' injected into western man an absurd inferiority complex in regard to pagan antiquity and then the 'Enlightenment' insisted on eliminating from public policy and public law the very Christian revelation which defined and ennobled western man. The 'Enlightenment' is a parasite, it will not survive the death of its host. But it is strong enough to weaken the West to the point where its traditional external enemy the Islamic Ummah can strike the killer blow. Deep down the liberals know this is case, as they contracept and abort and legislate our civilisation into extinction, but in the end they don't care. Their ultimate motive was always less the love of 'liberty' and more the hatred of Christ."

Self-driving shuttle crashes in Las Vegas hours after launch | Fox News

Human driver of a semi is being blamed for bumping into a self-driving shuttle that drew too close to the back of the truck and failed to allow it room to back up. The reaction of the authorities suggests that human drivers will be expected to make accommodation for the limitations of automated vehicles and be blamed for accidents that are due to those limitations. This is the slippery slope: Allowing autonomous vehicles on the road creates a safety justification for banning vehicles with human drivers. At that point, the automobile will cease to be a tool of personal autonomy, taking you and your stuff where you want to go, and will become a limited-purpose utility, moving you only to those places where the Powers That Be allow you to go. The only defense against that outcome is to ban autonomous vehicles from public thoroughfares.

What is a sheepdog? -- Sheepdog Seminars

This is an organization devoted to making churches aware of the need to take active measures to protect their congregations from predators and to provide the training to do so effectively.

"When we refer to a 'Sheepdog Seminar for Churches,' we are appealing to churches to form Eyes and Ears Teams at their houses of worship: men and women (sheepdogs) who's assignment on that particular day is to watch out for anyone and anything that threatens the safety of the congregation."

You Know You're from Tulsa If: Homes lost to the Inner Dispersal Loop

Mike Lins has posted photos of a Craftsman-era home that stood at 1233 S. Norfolk Ave. His grandparents owned it, but it was bought under eminent domain to make way for the eastern leg of the Inner Dispersal Loop, which damaged inner-city neighborhoods and their connections to downtown for the sake of facilitating suburban commuters. Lins prompted reminiscences and photos from other Tulsans whose families owned property taken for the expressway. For example, Jim Murray mentions his grandparents' home near 14th and Owasso, and their corner store, Rowan Market, at 14th Place and Rockford.

7 totally mean things women do to men - Grumpy Sloth

"Scolding him in public, telling him what he ought to be doing, complaining about him on social media like he's a naughty dog -- these are all ways of infantilizing and invalidating a person's agency, and you would be livid if he did it to you. Adults speak TO each other. Can you imagine if he said at a party or posted online, 'She was crying over a dog food commercial like a little baby'? That's how he feels when you say, 'Who puts dirty dishes on the counter when there's a dishwasher right there? Five year olds. That's who.'

"The conversation should be happening at home, in private, at the moment of infraction. 'HONEY. Dishes. Come on. We're a team here.' And if he says the same thing to you about your stuff all over the bathroom counter, respond the way you'd want him to respond to the dish issue."

Something is wrong on the internet - James Bridle - Medium

"Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale, and it forces me to question my own beliefs about the internet, at every level. Much of what I am going to describe next has been covered elsewhere, although none of the mainstream coverage I've seen has really grasped the implications of what seems to be occurring.

"To begin: Kid's YouTube is definitely and markedly weird. I've been aware of its weirdness for some time. Last year, there were a number of articles posted about the Surprise Egg craze. Surprise Eggs videos depict, often at excruciating length, the process of unwrapping Kinder and other egg toys. That's it, but kids are captivated by them. There are thousands and thousands of these videos and thousands and thousands, if not millions, of children watching them....

"The above video is entitled Wrong Heads Disney Wrong Ears Wrong Legs Kids Learn Colors Finger Family 2017 Nursery Rhymes. The title alone confirms its automated provenance. I have no idea where the 'Wrong Heads' trope originates, but I can imagine, as with the Finger Family Song, that somewhere there is a totally original and harmless version that made enough kids laugh that it started to climb the algorithmic rankings until it made it onto the word salad lists, combining with Learn Colors, Finger Family, and Nursery Rhymes, and all of these tropes -- not merely as words but as images, processes, and actions -- to be mixed into what we see here."


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